'Mary Poppins Returns' film review: A familiar, heartfelt spoonful of sugar
"Mary Poppins Returns" (opening in theaters nationwide Dec. 19) is a faithful sequel & rooted in a leading performance worthy of the beloved Disney classic.
In short: Decades after leaving the Banks children, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to nanny the children of recently widowed Michael Banks, who is at risk of losing the family house on Cherry Tree Lane. Also stars Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters and Colin Firth.
Mary Poppins is the definition of an intimidating, iconic film role. Julie Andrews won an Academy Award for her performance in one of the most beloved Disney films of all time. And let it be known: Emily Blunt is practically perfect in every way as the fantastical nanny. She radiates charm and an intolerance for nonsense (while being perfectly, inexplicably nonsensical herself). Blunt's version isn’t merely a Julie Andrews impersonation - the film affords Blunt room for her own take on the loving but firm nanny. Like the original, Poppins herself doesn’t have a character arch - and Blunt brilliantly brings depth, complexity and heart to the titular role. Poppins is a force of nature - not unlike the wind she rides - and Blunt is perfection.
In overall form, "Returns" has many of the same beats as its predecessor. Instead of a song about putting the kids to bed, "Returns" has one about taking a bath. There's another song that drops the real-life actors into a fully animated sequence. There's a solemn, more serious song (in the vein of "Feed the Birds") as well as another major dance number featuring London's blue collar workers (lamplighters this time instead of chimney sweeps).
While the overall movie is very reminiscent of the original, it’s still a progression and not a retread. First and foremost - what did anyone expect from a "Mary Poppins" sequel? If anything (and to its credit), many of the scenes, songs and moments of "Returns" could have easily existed within the first film - which is a compliment to how faithful "Returns" is to the original film's tone and tenor. Poppins is elementally and essentially the same, timeless character - but the world and the Banks family has changed without her. She is a constant in a constantly changing world - and both "Mary Poppins" work because she shakes the Banks family from their mundane lives, reminding them of simple, universal but easily forgetten truths.
The key difference between the original and this sequel is "Returns" actually has an overarching plot. For a Best Picture nominee that's almost two and a half hours long, the original film is very light on plot - to the point that it's closer to a series of amazing scenes than an actual, fleshed out story. "Returns" injects actual stakes and an outright villain this time around. That said, the plot's ultimate resolution is fairly unsatisfying and borders on the dreaded deus ex machina. While the plot gives the film some structure, it's also arguably the weakest aspect of the sequel.
Final verdict: "Returns" doesn't necessarily bring much new to the table, but it joyfully brings back the original's charm and heart. It is a faithful whirlwind of magical delight highlighted by Blunt's magnificent performance.
"Mary Poppins Returns" opens in theaters Dec. 19. The musical fantasy has a running time of 130 minutes and is rated PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action.